Argumentation skills through writing. An argumentative essay
Contemporary argumentation theorists claim that argumentation has interactive, social, dynamic and dialogical nature and reflect social constructivist perspective. Yet, there are multiple approaches to promoting a most effective learning approach and instruction. How can students learn to construct strong arguments and distinguish between facts and opinions?
There are three educational approaches for developing argument skills: oral, written and web-based discussions. Research results reveal that expended engagement in argumentative discourse improves the quality of arguments even if there is no instruction provided.
In our book we take a mixed approach to teaching which is based on experiential learning and direct instruction. Direct instruction provides students with requirements for their writing while the experiential approach emphasizes their engagement and practice.
For Russian students, engaging in a “two-sided” argument (versus "one-sided") seems to be challenging. A two-sided argument addresses the opposing argument, rather than simply arguing for one's own position. It is crucial that Russian students learn to engage in evidence-based argumentation where they provide a claim and support it by evidence or reasons in a certain way.
Another challenge is that English instructors may also have difficulty in explaining how to make arguments and how evidence can be applied in reading and writing. Many teachers seem to be unprepared to provide instructional support for learning argumentation skills.
Development of cognitive competence requires acknowledging the academic and disciplinary discourses. Russian students often struggle to attend to opponent's claims and stay focused on their own claims. They also fail to identify any weaknesses in the opponent’s arguments. However, when proper instruction is available students are able to apply arguments.
There are various approaches to defining argument structure. Some researchers highlight a claim supported by grounds, warrants and backing. Others suggest argument-counterargument integration for defining an argument schema and suggest strategies to construct an integrative argument: refutation, constructing a design claim and weighing.
Whatever approach is chosen, one learning goal is for teachers and for students to become aware of the existing strategies and decide why they follow it. This is part of the goal of metacognitive development. It is also important to incorporate reflective activities into learning as they help to ensure that reasoning skills become internalized.
In addition to gaining awareness of the strategies and reflection, a learner should gain a deeper understanding of the content and persuading others with their arguments. Students should learn generate arguments that incorporate multiple perspectives of an issue. Our book employs reflective activities as a primary pedagogical tool for the improving argument and reasoning skills.
Our book is in line with the experiential learning which we see as the process of learning when students’ knowledge is based on their experience. “Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience" (Kolb, 1984, p. 41 in Kolb, et al., 2000). The learning process is structured in four stages including first experience (preliminary questions in each section), reflective observation (theoretical excerpts and sample writings), abstract conceptualization (end-of-the-section questions) and active experimentation (thinking, speaking, writing activities).
In our book we also scaffold argumentative written discourse and break up learning activities into different aspects. There are such techniques as working in collaborative pairs, reflective activities, dialogues and discussions.
The development of metacognition is based on extended reading activities and speaking. It will help ensure students become reflective about their reasoning and evidence. Apart from having students develop stronger arguments, we invite them to engage more with the opposing position which isn't necessarily false.
We do believe that mastering critical writing skills help students become better critical thinkers.